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UCLA BASKETBALL

Tyler Honeycutt will show how much he cares

UCLA forward makes it look too easy for some, but he just wants Bruins to win.

March 15, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt may appear to have a casual playing style, but he understands that winning games is more important than making things look easy on the court.
UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt may appear to have a casual playing style,… (Christina House / For The…)

Reporting from Tampa, Fla. — A trip to a college dorm can be an enlightening experience. Tyler Honeycutt's mother discovered this last year when she stopped by her son's room in Westwood.

"He lifts out this barber cape and said, 'Look what I got,' " Lisa Stazel said of Honeycutt, now a sophomore forward for UCLA. "Most kids are out buying video games or shoes, and he was excited to show me he bought a barber cape. It was cute."

The cape has received plenty of use in recent months. As the Bruins' unofficial team barber, Honeycutt has styled players' hair into mohawks this season as a sign of team unity.

But some UCLA fans think Honeycutt, for all his talent, hasn't cut it.

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Message boards are rife with vitriol directed at what is perceived as a carefree attitude from a player critics think has been on cruise control since his NBA draft stock soared in December after a 33-point performance against Kansas.

Wrote one fan: "It's sad when your most talented player chooses to set such a poor example for the team and dog it every game."

Wrote another: "I laugh at the thought of Honeycutt playing against an intense Kobe" Bryant.

Honeycutt acknowledged last week that he was part of a "too cool" attitude that plagued the Bruins during an upset loss to Oregon in the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament.

Yet, Honeycutt realizes nothing is more hip than winning, particularly as seventh-seeded UCLA (22-10) prepares to open the NCAA tournament on Thursday in Tampa against 10th-seeded Michigan State (19-14) in a Southeast Regional second-round game.

"That's what I play for," he said. "I will give up those 30 points in Kansas to get a win."

Bort Escoto has seen it happen for years. Honeycutt's coach at Sylmar High said the 6-foot-8 standout is happy to sacrifice his scoring for the good of his team. And when it comes to the casual look of Honeycutt's game, Escoto said that is merely a function of his natural talent and "goofy, easy-to-get-along-with" demeanor.

"Sometimes your personality carries over onto the court," Escoto said. "I can see where some people might think he's kind of nonchalant. But if he's not playing hard, then why does he still fill up the stat line every night with rebounds, assists, scoring?"

Indeed, Honeycutt led the Pac-10 in blocked shots and ranked seventh in rebounding. Conference coaches who made him a first-team All-Pac-10 selection thought that was more than enough to offset the fact he led UCLA in scoring only twice.

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Bruins Coach Ben Howland seems to relish having a player more comfortable finding teammates for dunks and layups than splurging for 20 points.

"He loves to make a pass that leads to a basket, and you have to love guys like that," Howland said of Honeycutt, who leads the Bruins in minutes per game (34.9) while ranking second in rebounds (7.4) and assists (3.1) and third in points (12.6). "Those are my favorite kind of players."

Honeycutt said his all-around approach stems from modeling himself after players with a high basketball IQ such as Miami Heat star LeBron James.

"The better you are at every aspect, the more minutes you can put on the floor," Honeycutt said, "the more valuable you are to a team, the harder it makes for someone to guard you."

The message-board chatter doesn't faze Honeycutt, he said, because he worries only about his coaches' opinions. But it's not that easy for his mother.

"That's one of the things that's really bothered me about the blogs and articles I read, that he's mentally checked out," Stazel said. "That's absolutely not true.

"It's just the way he presents himself on the court. He's quiet and respectful and keeps his emotions pretty well checked. In no way, shape or form is it because he doesn't care or can't wait to get to the NBA."

One NBA executive said he would be surprised if Honeycutt wasn't selected in the latter half of the first round of the June draft should he decide to forgo his final two years of eligibility.

"You look at those mock draft boards and one week he's at 10, the next week he's at 12," Stazel said. "They really fluctuate. There's not a certain spot on the draft board for me to think he's going to go or not go. There are going to be a whole bunch of variables to look at."

A potential NBA lockout is one factor, Stazel said. So is what her son's return might mean for a UCLA team that probably would be a top-10 pick nationally with him in the fold.

Honeycutt is eager to put off draft talk for something else. "I just want to take us as far as we can to get us back in tournament talk," he said.

In the meantime, Honeycutt won't let anyone mess with his head — or his hair.

"He's a little pretty boy," UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith joked. "That's the last thing he wants to do is cut his hair short or anything like that. I'm pretty sure if I gave him $10,000 right now he still wouldn't get a mohawk."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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